As I've been listening to some new soundtracks from the library (which has a surprisingly classy Philip Glass selection; I now have the whole -atsi trilogy!) and inspired by some of swashbuckler332
's recent recs, I'm listing a couple of my favorites as of late from random categories. If it's possible, I swear I feel some of my reviewer "muscles" atrophied - I have a bunch more half-formed reviews I wanted to write scattered about on paper, on my computer and in my head; I'll get around to them when I can.
I swear, once I get back to college I *will* track down Jon Burlingame (the Man from UNCLE
soundtrack producer) and have lunch with him. Spring term once I'm done with all of my core requirements, I will turn my entire schedule upside down if necessary so I can take that TV music course of his.
: Bernard Herrman Film Scores: From Citizen Kane to Taxi Driver,
as conducted by Elmer Bernstein. I normally dislike compilations as a whole, especially ones that are supposed to reflect a composer’s oeuvre, as they tend to include all of the main pieces you already have anyway or are totally butchered by an inept conductor. Thankfully legendary composer Bernstein makes sure such an awful fate doesn’t befall Herrmann. The listener is treated to a delightful sampling of Herrmann’s compositions for Hitchcock, with a sprinkle of his best works from the post-Hitchcock era (I love Bernstein’s concert suite of Taxi Driver
) as well as Citizen Kane
, the masterpiece that was his start in the film industry. The selection of works balance familiar staples (the controlled chaos that is the main title fandango of North by Northwest,
the driving title theme and infamous shower sequence from Psycho
) with the less well-known (the jaunty but slightly off-kilter title theme from The Wrong Man
, the haunting and reflective “Book People” cue from Fahrenheit 451
). This presentation strikes a balance between the contemplative and quietly revealing with sheer emotional intensity. It helps that most of the pieces are difficult to find – where else will you find a rendition of “the Storm Clouds,” as conducted by Herrmann in The Man Who Knew Too Much
remake? Like Herrmann, Bernstein lends a lyrical expressiveness to the music without making it farcically overwrought while throwing in his unique brand of exuberance for his friend’s work. My only minor quibble was with Vertigo
’s “Scène d’Amour,” which has my favorite build-up out of all recorded versions of this cue, but soon loses steam once Madeleine is “revealed” again. But on the whole, you can’t go wrong listening to a lovingly presented album of some of film's greatest music.Runner-up
: Festival de Cannes: 60th Anniversary
has some of the best selections of late 20th century, hands down. Most multi-decade “classic film” compilations pander to mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, featuring only a few well-known composers, with a couple of acknowledged Oscar dramas thrown in. They generally focus on the 70’s onwards, feeding into John Williams and his stylistic ilk, and a couple other sentimental pop favorites (Marvin Hamlisch’s The Way We Were
and “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic
almost always appear, too). The Cannes selections are far more worldly and much more stylistically intriguing – so many musical gems spanning genres that would otherwise be very difficult to find. Kudos to the producers who thought of featuring the M*A*S*H
title theme followed up by the title theme from Z
. If you ever want a quick sampler of great film music from around the world and across time, this would be a great place to start.Best re-released score as conducted by someone else
: Joel McNeely’s recording of Vertigo
, written by the incomparable Bernard Herrmann, finally does justice to one of the most beautiful scores ever written after the original conductor Muir Matheson (curse you, studio musicians’ strike!) butchered. I’ve written a fair amount about this score previously; though a few minor cues are missing, having an authentic loyal to Herrmann’s vision is far worth it.Best animated feature
: The Hayo Miyazaki-Joe Hisaishi director and composer partnership is easily the best in the film industry, rivaled only by the Alfred Hitchcock-Bernard Herrmann and Steven Spielberg-John Williams pairings. Joe Hisaishi’s Howl’s Moving Castle
is a delightful and charmingly atmospheric score that expresses the conflicts of loyalty in a beautifully understated way, reflective of the characters’ caution in revealing and giving themselves fully to others. The soaring waltz theme captures the sense of adventure and wonder of the magical world in which Sophie finds herself. Runner-up
: Michael Giacchino’s Ratatouille.
Giacchino’s strengths lie in his ability to tell a story musically – he recreates the film in the acoustic medium to heighten our understanding of what’s happening onscreen (because otherwise, how would you ever figure out the labyrinthine plot of Alias
? I have a number of entries dedicated to score analysis of a couple of episodes, although most of my score notes are still on post-its.). The music don’t just heighten emotion or evoke an atmosphere; they are an aural transcription of the story. Yes, you’ve got a fair number of leitmotifs to represent the characters and certain locations (Remy and Linguini cooking, Linguini and Collette, the rat colony, Gusteau), but what makes them interesting is how they interact with each other as they do in the film. Giacchino takes great delight in mixing musical pastiches (the “welcome to Gusteau’s” cue at the start of the movie with the Marseilleise leading into a jaunty Left Bank accordion is brilliant), but I confess I still prefer the deeper thematic substance and homage to orchestral jazz that was the Incredibles.Best movie whose only redeeming feature is the score
: John Barry’s The Specialist
. One might be initially wary of the reliance on a predominant theme that characterizes some of Barry’s later works (same scoring approach as the Scarlet Letter
) - more of a European approach for a mediocre American would-be blockbuster. There’s a quietly smoldering anguish in the jazzy notations of recurring refrains of “Did You Call Me.” As Elmer Bernstein has remarked, very rarely is a film score pure jazz as the spirit of jazz requires improvisation. Barry’s music is well aware of the stylistic constraints, and the longing we hear is all the more heightened by the fleeting semblance of musical freedom. The emotional chaos and literal violence (the titular character specializes in explosives) are underlined by a restrained, subtle sense of form that lacks the space to grow.